With Auston Matthews and William Nylander likely to rejoin the Toronto Maple Leafs within the week, Josh Leivo should feel secure about the roster spot he has earned.
It appears that Josh Leivo has finally carved out a regular role in his sixth season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That being said, it must be understandably nerve-racking for him to hear about William Nylander and Auston Matthew’s imminent return to the lineup.
William Nylander’s contract dispute will need to be resolved by 5 PM on December 1st to be eligible to play this season and Auston Matthews appears to be ready to return after rehabbing a shoulder injury he sustained on October 27 in a collision with Winnipeg Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba.
Coach Mike Babcock spoke about the situation after Saturday’s victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, saying, “It’s my assumption we’re getting both back.” A statement that is sure to ease the tension of Leafs fans who believe Nylander and the team are at an impasse in contract negotiations.
When Matthews and Nylander are Back
Upon their return, two forward spots will need to be vacated. With Frederik Gauthier playing the least ice time of all Leafs forwards and having only two assists in 21 games, he will likely be the first to be reassigned to the Toronto Marlies. That leaves Andreas Johnsson, Josh Leivo and Tyler Ennis as the next possible candidates to be bumped out of the lineup.
Andreas Johnsson’s hat-trick in Saturday night’s win could not have come at a better time and gives him 5 goals in his last 9 games. It appears that he has found his stride with the big club after dominating the AHL Calder Cup playoffs last season, which should solidify his spot as an NHL regular.
That leaves Tyler Ennis and Josh Leivo as the final two candidates to be removed from the lineup. Both have 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points on the season and their time on ice and shot totals are nearly identical. However, as Kyle Dubas has preached, recency bias is a dangerous phenomenon.
Using a larger sample size and the SKATR comparison tool to compare Ennis and Leivo, Leivo has the clear advantage. Across 17 analytics categories detailing individual performance and the team’s performance when on the ice, Leivo has outpaced Ennis In 16 of 17 categories over the past 3 seasons. These categories include expected goals for and expected goals against, as well as points/60 minutes of ice time and primary assists/60 minutes of ice time.
There is understandable skepticism of individual analytics categories, such as Corsi, in the hockey community. However, an aggregation of 17 different categories is a strong indicator of performance and predictor of future success as well.
Additionally, Ennis is scoring at the lowest pace of any season in his 10-year NHL career. As a player that doesn’t necessarily fit the mould of a checking-line winger, Ennis needs to contribute offense to be effective and as of yet, he hasn’t been able to do that consistently.
Leivo’s size, physicality, and style of play seem to make him a better fit than Ennis with Mike Babcock’s ideal role for checking-line forwards. For that reason, Ennis will most likely become the team’s 13th forward and Leivo should finally settle into a full-time role on a healthy Toronto Maple Leafs squad.